Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Kurt Elling's THE GATE, music review by Chuck Joy
Kurt Elling steps from the small and growing group of musical talents I’ve learned by listening to Erie’s Jazz Flight. Erie Pennsylvania USA, an economical low-traffic settlement on the northern border, home to beautiful beaches, a Poet Laureate, and Jazz Flight. Jazz Flight, a weeknightly jazz and world music radio show on WQLN-FM 91.3, hosted by Mercyhurst University’s Rob Hoff. Kurt Elling is a vocalist.
The voice is a difficult instrument. You get what you got. Kurt’s voice is alright, his tone might dip but he’s game for arpeggios. It’s what he does with it, that voice. Kurt Elling is an innovator, even while acknowledging his forbears such that Elling does whole shows themed to Frank Sinatra. But Kurt Elling comes closer to the border of poet than most vocalists. Sometimes he reads poetry, or at least graceful prose, usually over jazz music, occasionally blues, a variety of tempos. On The Gate he reads Duke Ellington.
Kurt Elling comes critically acclaimed. Where have I been? I heard him live on a big stage, one of the biggest and the best in Erie. For twenty bucks. Like I said Erie, economical. I bought this disk from the man’s two hands, my copy of The Gate. It’s signed. What’s wrong with us? A guy like this, such a musical artist, should not be selling his own disks. Kurt Elling owned that whole house. His vocalizing delighted a mixed audience, from swing traditionalists to gals who rock, bending the sound, his instrument, through the words and around them. None of us will ever be the same. We should help make Kurt Elling less accessible!
I also bought a disk from Elling’s piano player Laurence Hobgood when he let slip he’d recorded the disk with Robert Pinsky. Hobgood went out to the car or somewhere to fetch me that disk and that disk is really well-done. The Gate features almost all covers, Kurt Elling a song stylist, a song stylist who makes good choices, songs you’re excited to hear, like Blue In Green, a trumpet tune, and Golden Lady, from Stevie Wonder. Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out. The album opens with Matte Kudasai, a 1981 release from King Crimson. Norwegian Wood, my own drive to recite the lyric to Strawberry Fields Forever on the poetry stage clearly influenced by listening to The Gate.
The relationship between music and poetry, their crazy love, so wonderful and subtle. Lately I’ve been thinking, poetry is vocals. Kurt Elling is a song stylist. The Gate is heavy with cool renditions. I have other of Kurt’s LP works. His Dedicated To You brings the music of Coltrane and Hartman. Live In Chicago includes My Foolish Heart but also more fun poetry, and guest musicians, recorded at the Green Mill, also iconic for poetry, baby. The Gate is a new release, 2011. Approach this album as a big deal, like you have a sixty dollar ticket, maybe two of ‘em. Take a nice seat and get ready to feel the beat.